Growing up in Australia as a young Māori woman, Niki Waitai was keen to bring her family home, to get back to her roots and give back to her community.

“We wanted our kids to have a sense of belonging, their identity, a sense of who they are. I missed that, being Māori in another country,” says Niki.

Niki Waitai with John Leggett, Mayor of Marlborough.

Now back home, Niki is an inspiration to others. She is passionate about her learning, her culture, her support for those in hardship, and has a determination to grow and succeed whilst juggling her other commitments.

Niki returned to Blenheim four years ago and was grateful to Māori health provider, Te Piki Oranga for giving her the opportunity.

“They supported me through my work, and through the process of learning on-the-job.”

Although Niki says she wasn’t great at school, it was during her time at Te Piki Oranga, where she developed a thirst for learning. Impressively, she completed the New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing Levels 2 and 3 in just one year, with support from industry training organisation, Careerforce.

“It was an awesome way to study. I really enjoyed the journey. Every time I finished a paper, I’d ask, ‘what more can I do?’ and I’d get right into it.”

“Careerforce has really prepped me for some amazing mahi in the workplace, and helped me to rediscover my desire for learning,” says Niki.

Niki moved to the new role of Pūkenga Manaaki (Whānau Navigator) within the organisation a year ago. She provides an intensive service that helps support vulnerable hapu māmā and whānau with personalised intervention.

“I am privileged to support mums, many of whom have an addiction of some sort, and/or may have mental health issues, often parenting alone, and living in chaos. I am really grateful for this role, it’s very rewarding to play a part in the lives of whanau who need awhi support to get back on their feet.

“I help navigate whanau through maternity from antenatal, through to baby being born and on for 3 years. I’m able to specialise their approach or the intervention to whānau needs, so that we can build on whanau being resilient, self-managing, maintaining healthy lifestyles through achieving their own aspirations and goals.”

Careerforce Workplace Advisor Paula Cohen encouraged Niki to enrol in the NZ Diploma in Health and Wellbeing (Level 5) Applied Practice.

The new role fitted perfectly with this next qualification. Careerforce tailored each module to the role, based on her job description.

“I was learning and then actively practising the tools I had learnt with whānau. It was very hands on,” says Niki.

“With applied practice, I was able to acknowledge and recognise what I had learnt in the case studies and apply it. It’s the best way to learn. To have the modules right there and fresh in your mind and to go to work and apply that learning. It’s easier to retain hands-on learning.

“I learnt about reflective practice and I’ve applied it on the job. It’s so important, it’s helped with my confidence, in working with whānau.

Niki says that the study never felt like a burden. Careerforce Staff Assessor Health and Wellbeing, Joanna Martino supported Niki through the Diploma programme.

“I’m really grateful for Joanna. I had the best support. She was always willing to help with any queries and she walked with me through everything. It’s always good to have someone in your corner!

“I facilitate a Hapu Mama Peer support group ‘Poipoia te kakano kia puawai- Nurture the seed and it will blossom’

“In the peer support group there are mums who are experiencing real hardship. This is a beautiful space where external services can come join us for a cuppa low key and share their messages and participate in the activities we are holding. The Red Cross have run safety workshops and the Māori Women’s Welfare League have given time to pamper the mums. It’s nice to know that the community is out there wrapping around support for our vulnerable whanau.”

Although Niki is relieved and excited to have completed her diploma, the momentum of learning doesn’t stop.

“At the end of all the study, my goal is to be a social worker and I’m applying next year to do a degree in social work. The possibilities are endless. Careerforce has truly helped me have that zest for learning”

More information about the New Zealand Diploma in Health and Wellbeing Level 5.

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